The Fable games have been enjoyable, if shallow experiences, offering colorful romps throughout the land of Albion as you performed appropriately heroic feats on your path to glory. Though they had plenty to offer – stylish visuals, excellent voice acting, and a fantastic sense of humor – their frothy plots made them difficult to take all that seriously. Sure, you were ostensibly saving the world from A Big and Gloomy Bad Thing, but you were probably too concerned with bedding your husband, training your dog, or working off all those fattening pies to give it much thought. Fable 3 keeps the franchise’s slick aesthetic but adds a surprisingly dark and mature story to give it substance. Fable has always supposedly been about choice, but in Fable 3, you’ll actually feel the weight of those choices in an unexpected and very personal way. It’s almost a masterpiece. Almost.
Fable 3 picks up about 50 years after its predecessor, as you take on the role of the son or daughter of the Hero king or queen from Fable 2. Your brother Logan is king and has driven the people to such ruin that they are ready to revolt, and what began as just another day in the palace ends with you on the run and charged with raising an army big enough to stage a coup.
You’ll spend most of your time in Fable 3 doing the same sorts of things you did in Fable 2, like completing quests for folks in need, buying real estate, opening treasure-guarding Demon Doors, finding hidden keys, collecting bits of clothing, and getting into lots of fights. The realm has changed a great deal since you last visited, opening up new areas for exploration and adding concerns slightly more weighty than an infestation of Hobbes or a rampant Balvarine. Bowerstone Industrial is suffering from intense poverty, with most children working in factories as soon as they can walk. The gypsy Dwellers who live in mountains of Mistpeak are starving and besieged by mercenaries. The Aurorans have it even worse. Your exploits in Albion were never completely carefree, but the impending evil never quite impacted the citizens the way it does in Fable 3. These problems are real, people are dying, and you are literally the only one who can save them. Time to stop playing at Hero and actually be one.
Your quests will naturally require you to do plenty of fighting, and once again you have three methods available to you: melee (swords and hammers), ranged (pistols and rifles), and magic. Previous Fables have tried various methods to make combat more interesting, which usually led to it being more difficult to deal out damage, but it’s down to the basics in Fable 3: Hold down the button to charge, then release to unleash your offensive fury. It’s a system made for button mashers, and will almost certainly feel far too thin to anyone hoping to stick to a single combat discipline, but it lends itself well to anyone hoping to mix and match. The fancy finishing moves you’ll pull off once you get good enough with a weapon are impressive to watch, too.
You can upgrade the weapons you find or buy by completing certain conditions, like killing 300 Ugly Things or befriending 30 villagers. Upgrades can be helpful (increasing damage), or just fun (25% boost to your attractiveness), and are usually easy enough to earn just by fitting the weapon to your current quest. Your Hero Weapons – the ones you inherit from your mom or dad at the beginning of the game – also change based on how you play the game. Kill lots of Hollow Men and you’ll earn a bone handle for your sword; amass a lot of gold, and your blade will be dripping with bling. The changes are solely cosmetic, but they’re fun to watch develop.
Fable 3‘s magic gets the biggest combat overhaul of all. Spells are now associated with specific gauntlets, and even though you’ve got two arms, you can only cast one spell at a time. Eventually, you’ll earn the ability to spellweave two spells together, and while no-one can deny that throwing lightning-wrapped fireballs is extremely cool, it’s still just one spell. You’ll gain access to all of the spells you knew from Fable 2, but Slow Time and Summon Creatures are now potions instead of cast magic. The result of all this streamlining is much faster, easier to use magic, but some players are undoubtedly going to feel constricted by the changes.
One of the biggest changes to the game is the Sanctuary, which is all of the information you used to access from the pause menu made into a physical space. You can review your weapons in the armory, change your appearance or your outfit in your dressing room, admire your accomplishments in the trophy room, or check your dog’s stats by looking at him sleeping in his basket. It’s an elegant and simple way to cram a lot of information into one place, and while I did miss the ability to review my items in a list (how many pearls do I have, again?), the ease with which I could do everything else was well worth giving it up.
Fable 3‘s gripping story keeps you charging forward, eager to find out what happens next, while its cheeky sense of humor takes the edge off the coming storm. Its voice acting and stunning imagery create an Albion that feels like a real place, with real people.
And then one of the game’s many bugs slaps you in the face and ruins everything.
The glittering breadcrumb trail leading you to your next destination will disappear or point you in the wrong direction. Sound drops out. Characters will get stuck, disappear, or just completely stop, sometimes making it impossible to keep playing. Many of these are the same problems that plagued Fable 2, and Lionhead’s failure to fix them is pretty damn inexcusable. Yes, I know the game is bigger and better but that’s exactly why they should have worked extra hard to make it work. Take away the technical issues and Fable 3 is brilliant. Leave them in and it’s just another pretty good game that may or may not piss you off, depending on how it decides to break that moment.
Co-operative play has been a promise that the Fable games have yet been unable to keep. It was pulled from Fable at the last minute and the co-op in Fable 2 was pointless and clunky. So how is the co-op in Fable 3, which is supposed to let us not only adventure, but also co-own business, get married, and have children with our Live friends? I have no idea. Though Microsoft promises that it’ll be “fully optimized” by the time you read this, it hadn’t launched yet when I was playing the game to review. We’ll give it a try and update our review as soon as we can.
Bottom Line: Fable 3 is the best Fable yet. It’s mature and thought provoking, with a final act that will genuinely surprise and confound you. It could’ve been a masterpiece, but its many technical problems bring it down.
Recommendation: It’s frustrating, but play it anyway, if only for the wonderfully quirky quests and the way your choices genuinely pull at your conscience. Or just to kick the chickens, whatever.[rating=4]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Susan Arendt just might kick Peter Molyneux in the shins the next time she sees him.
Game: Fable 3
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: October 26th, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon